The Kenyan government considers education and training as one of the most important instruments to achieve economic growth. As a consequence, the education sector is receiving a large budget that is increasing yearly. The government wished to increase access to education for children and, therefore introduced Free Primary and Free (Day) Secondary Education. However, there remain large challenges, including: shortage of and poorly maintained classrooms, shortage of teachers, and a high pupil-to-teacher ratio.
Guaranteeing that all children have access to quality education is one of the main targets of the Ministry of Education. Good health, nutrition and meals at school are crucial in attempting to reach this goal. Healthy children are, after all, better pupils and important change agents in their communities. The Ministry provides dry ingredients for meals to primary schools in poor and dry areas of the country in order to attract pupils and to reduce the number of drop-outs from poor families. The Healthy Learning programme wants to take it one step further, by focusing on developing knowledge, skills and attitudes related to health, good nutrition and the environment in general.
The programme, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, aims to develop and implement sustainable strategies for an integrated approach of Healthy Learning in primary education. This approach pays special attention to the poorest and most vulnerable children in arid and semi-arid areas.
The ultimate aim of the programme is that schools in underdeveloped regions apply multidisciplinary methods in order to make their pupils develop skills on better nutrition and health that also have positive consequences for both their families and their communities.
The Healthy Learning programme is a cooperation between VVOB Kenya, the Ministry of Education, more specifically the School Health, Nutrition and Meals Unit (our strategic partner); and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).
The programme is imbedded in the sector plan for education (KESSP: Kenya Education Sector Support Programme). As part of the investment programme 'School Health, Nutrition and Meals', Healthy Learning uses an integrated approach in order to organise learning activities on food, health and environment at school.
The programme emphasises the connection between the quality of learning experiences and the health status of children who attend primary school. The programme particularly focuses on healthy feeding patterns, hygiene, farming techniques and environment to achieve better learning processes.
First of all, the capacity of the staff of the Ministry of Education is strengthened at national level. The programme focuses on coordinating, harmonising, advising and supporting Healthy Learning initiatives in the KESSP investment programme ‘School Health, Nutrition and Meals’ and complements other initiatives such as the national deworming and the school feeding programmes.
Secondly, the programme works at the school level. 30 ‘model schools’ in eight districts are supported through training, learning materials and funds to start up activities related to Healthy Learning. Initiatives such as hand washing facilities, school garden, tree nursery, keeping chickens or goats, etc. are excellent opportunities for learning. It is important that life skills related to better nutrition and health are integrated in the school activities. The ‘model schools’ start ‘projects’ with three possible objectives in mind: 1) to provide tools for new, more practical ways of instruction and learning 2) to supplement school feeding and 3) (in some schools only) income generation.
In order to achieve the goals, district officers of various Ministries (Education, Agriculture, Water, Health and others) and non-governmental organisations are involved. They support the schools with advice, additional means (when available) and they assist with monitoring and evaluation. To promote Healthy Learning beyond the pilot schools, the programme is preparing a 'Healthy Learning Teacher’s Guide'. The 30 schools will support sharing of lessons learned and upscaling of the programme by adopting neighbouring schools and mentoring them to start their own Healthy Learning programme. In addition to this, systems are being set up that focus on information exchange, communication and coordination.
We are also developing partnerships and looking for resources to expand the programme and cover more schools.